An exciting getaway doesn’t need to be long or expensive. In fact, enjoying several short travel escapes over the course of a year might be more fun for the variety they provide. At least, that’s what we were banking on when we planned to spend one day in San Antonio. Yes, just one day!
One of the nicest things about San Antonio, Texas, is that it is very walkable. All of San Antonio’s best downtown attractions are within an easy walking distance of each other. We didn’t need to rent a car and only paid for one Uber ride each way from our airport hotel.
There’s also a lot to do and see without spending much money, so a San Antonio visit can be very economical. It’s entirely up to you how much you spend. When we explore a new city, we focus on history, culture, food, and scenic views. So here’s our itinerary for a day in San Antonio.
Learning about the history of San Antonio was important to us, so we started our day at The Alamo. This is the location where a battle between about 200 Texian soldiers and thousands of Mexican troops did not go well for Texas. The Texian soldiers refused to retreat or surrender the Alamo and were ultimately defeated and slain March 6, 1836. However, their sacrifice was not in vain. Their courage inspired Texian settlers to rise up and unite against Mexican troops, and only 6 weeks later, they defeated the Mexican troops under General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto. This was when their rallying cry, “Remember the Alamo!” became famous.
We spent about an hour here (tickets are free but reservations are required) walking the grounds and learning about the battle. There are quite a few statues of important Alamo characters, such as Davy Crocket, and there’s a beautiful memorial too. Later we learned that no building in San Antonio is allowed to cast a shadow on the restored Alamo, out of respect.
The Torch of Friendship
You can’t miss the bright red “Torch of Friendship” sculpture standing at the intersection of Alamo and Commerce streets. It is a significant landmark and is at the heart of the logo for San Antonio’s Deptartment of Arts and Culture. It was created by Sebastián and symbolizes the deep bonds between San Antonio and Mexico.
Shops at Rivercenter
Close to the Alamo is the Shops at Rivercenter mall. It’s worth visiting because the IMAX theater there shows a movie called Alamo: The Price of Freedom. We checked out the mall for a different reason. It was a little colder than we expected, and we purchased a long-sleeved shirt for my husband. If you like to shop, there are a number of interesting stores here. There’s also a Legoland and Sea Life museum, but we wanted to keep exploring San Antonio.
A small branch of the San Antonio River is channeled right into a courtyard behind the mall, and you can catch a GO RIO boat tour here.
GO RIO Boat Tours
To get to know any city better, I always recommend taking in some kind of tour, whether it be a guided walking tour, bus ride, or in this case, a boat tour. GO RIO operates several colorful barge-style boats on the San Antonion River in the River Walk area. A typical tour is about 35 minutes and only costs $15 — that’s money well-spent as we probably learned more during this tour than we did during the rest of our day in San Antonio. Plus, as we continued to explore, we made it a point to go visit some of the places mentioned in the tour.
Our GO RIO tour guide was both humorous and knowledgeable. Seeing the city from the viewpoint of the boat was also quite relaxing and enjoyable. It gave us a chance to rest our feet and let someone else do the work of transporting us. GO RIO has boats that serve as shuttles (a kind of water taxi) as well as dinner cruises, and they seem to be the only company authorized to operate boats along the River Walk. At night, the boats are lit up under the water’s surface and are quite pretty!
San Antonio River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk is about 15 miles long and flows through 5 miles of downtown San Antonio. Pathways on both sides of the river make it easy to stroll along the river and take in the sights. Gardens, fountains, bridges, and sculptures add beauty to this walk. In my opinion, the River Walk is easily the highlight of San Antonio. Cafes and restaurants line the River Walk with outdoor seating, and one stretch of the River Walk boasts several museums, including the Briscoe Western Art Museum. While you are strolling the River Walk, look for things like “Marriage Island” and the Love Locks bridge.
Tower of the Americas
The Tower of the Americas was built for the Hemisfair Worlds Fair in 1968, which was a celebration of San Antonio’s 250th anniversary. The restaurant at the top is called “The Eyes of Texas” and rotates once per hour. The height of the shaft is 605 feet tall.
We wanted to see the Tower but decided we didn’t need to see the view from the top. I’ve had similar experiences at Seattle’s Space Needle and Knoxville’s Sunsphere.
King William Historic District
Don’t miss this beautiful historic neighborhood — it was one of my favorite areas of San Antonio! In the mid 1800’s, wealthy German immigrants began building homes in this area of the city. They named the main throughfare King William after King Wilhelm I, King of Prussia. The street has retained the name ever since. Many of the homes back up to the San Antonio River Walk; there are bike and walking paths, bridges, and even a park. Most of the homes have been preserved and restored.
The Guenther House, built in 1876, offers breakfast, lunch and bakery items. The Villa Finale Museum and Gardens was closed for a special event the day we visited; it would definitely be worth a visit, and it is free to explore the gardens. Here’s a walking tour with more information about many of the homes here.
La Villita Historic Arts Village
Our next stop was La Villita, a quaint historic village situated on the San Antonio River and along the River Walk. It is primarily an arts hub now, with the Arneson River Theatre and artisan shops and restaurants. We chose to eat lunch here at the Guadalajara Grill and really enjoyed it.
San Fernando Cathedral
The San Fernando Cathedral, at Main Plaza Park, is the oldest building in San Antonio. Its construction began in 1738 by 15 families who immigrated from the Canary Islands. It is the oldest continuously thriving religious community in Texas. Besides being a beautiful cathedral, it is also the final resting place of three of the Texian heroes from the Alamo: Travis, Crockett, and Bowie.
Take a moment to check out the Founders Memorial across the street to see statues of the Canary Island settlers (in front of the red brick courthouse).
Spanish Governor’s Palace
Close to San Fernando Cathedral is the historic Spanish Governor’s Palace. It marks the last visual remnants of Presidio San Antonio de Béjar. It was the original residence and working office for the captains of the military garrison from 1722 to the early 1800’s. We just happened upon it by chance and decided to check it out. It was only $5 for adults and $3 for kids, and I felt it was well worth the price. We were given a self-guiding map and could explore at our own pace. I was fascinated with all the history; it was like walking through a living museum of early San Antonio life.
San Pedro Creek Culture Park
As we walked toward our next destination (Market Square), we passed this creek and a beautiful plaza with sculptures and a bright mural. Since I love art, I stopped to take a few photos. I’ve since learned more about San Pedro Creek Culture Park. With 4 miles of walking trails, landscaping, wading pools, multi-purpose areas, art and more, it is a lot like a mini River Walk. Don’t miss it if you have time!
Historic Market Square
Market Square has served San Antonio since the 1890’s. It stands on a plaza that was gifted to the original settlers by the king of Spain “for their use and entertainment” in 1730. Immigrants from Europe, the Middle East and Asia added their own touch to the Mexican culture. Today it is a colorful and bustling market filled with Mexican artifacts, clothing, food, and art. It is a popular place to hang out and listen to local musicians. There is also a free art museum called Centro de Artes with changing exhibits.
My husband and I loved strolling through Market Square! Checking out artisan crafts at the vendor booths, exotic animals in a petting pen, lively music, and a grand variety of souvenirs and food was a lot of fun.
The historic Majestic Theatre was built in 1929. It is San Antonio’s oldest and largest atmospheric theatre and is currently the home to the best of Broadway in San Antonio. Situated on E. Houston Street, it’s worth a walk-by at the very least. Hanging flower baskets, mosaic tile designs on lightpoles, and other details on this street make it very beautiful. Behind-the-scene tours of the theatre are available, too.
St. Joseph Catholic Church
This was a church we learned about on our GO RIO boat tour. Its history was so interesting to me, so we figured out where it was and went back to see it. Established by German immigrants in 1871. The stained glass windows were imported from Emil Frei Art Glass Factory in Munich.
When a development purchased lots surrounding the St Joseph Catholic Church, parishioners refused to sell, so a shopping mall was created on three sides of the church building. In fact, the developers overstepped their bounds by 6″ when building the mall and had to pay a handsome sum to St. Joseph’s.
Dinner on the River Walk
I’m sure there are many great restaurants to choose from, and I don’t know how you choose where to eat when you’re only spending one day in San Antonio. We let our noses decide. Somewhere I got the whiff of the most amazing-smelling barbecue meat and I followed it! My nose led me to the The County Line on the River Walk.
We had a bit of a wait but snagged an outdoor table where we could people-watch and soak in all the night action. Their homemade bread was as amazing as the barbecue sampler platter we ordered. I highly recommend this restaurant for the food, ambience, and friendliness of the staff.
For the rest of our evening, we walked along the River Walk. It seemed as though much of San Antonio had also come out to enjoy an evening stroll along the river. It was purely magical after dark — just look at these photos!
Tips for San Antonio
- When to go — we visited late February. No rain but not much sun either. Temperatures were moderate. San Antonio can be very hot in the summer and fall, so keep that in mind.
- How to get to San Antonio — we flew into San Antonio Int’l Airport on a Friday night and stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport because it had a free airport shuttle and breakfast. Spent all day Saturday exploring San Antonio and flew home early Sunday morning. We really only had time for the one day in San Antonio.
- How to get downtown — there is public transportation in San Antonio, but to save time, we chose to use Uber. It only cost us $15 each way, and it was very convenient.
- If you want to follow our itinerary, wear good walking shoes. We got 25,000 steps in for the day!
- If you are visiting with young children, most of the River Walk has no fences or barriers to keep people from falling in, so do be careful!
- Dress in layers. It was cool in the morning and about 10 degrees warmer in the afternoon.
- I used a small backpack instead of a purse. It held my Canon point and shoot camera, ID, snacks and a water bottle.
- If you’re able to earn a Southwest Companion Pass, weekend getaways like this one are so much more economical.
I hope you get to enjoy a getaway to San Antonio soon!
Here’s a video recap of our day in San Antonio:
Other city getaways we highly recommend:
A Walking Tour of Downtown Los Angeles
Three-Day Getaway to Quebec City
Two Days in Toronto: Perfect Getaway
Why You Should Discover Savannah
Costa Mesa – Perfect Romantic Getaway
Doing the San Diego Harbor — an Easy Walking Route
So much history and beauty all in one place!
I visited Texas twice and missed San Antonio both times which is such a pity as I have now seen in your post. I knew about the famous Alamo and the riverwalk but you have shown so much more interesting things to see and do here. Definitely saving this for my future reference
It looks like there are a lot of things that you can do in San Antonio if only have a day. I have a friend who visited so I am familiar with the San Antonio walk, where he actually had dinner as well, but nothing else. The historic market square looks so pretty, I would love to walk around and see what the local artisans are selling. It’s very interesting to learn how no building can be constructed near the Alamo if they would cast a shadow over it.
I loved looking at the video photos AND reading the comments with each photo. A few years back we visited San Antonio — the Alamo, Riverwalk and the Temple. An interesting place to visit.
Thank you, Gloria. This was our first visit. I’ve been wanting to go for years and so glad we finally got to see it!
Wow San Antonio looks like a great place to visit! I heard about the Alamo but didn’t know about the history. I would walk the riverwalk here, it looks so pretty especially at night with all the lights. The King William neighbourhood looks so unique and how colourful is the historic market square? San Antonio is on my list!
Walkable cities are my favorite to travel to. Along with cost savings, moving between tourist attractions is also made simpler. San Antonio offers a wealth of things to discover, so making an itinerary here is kind of a brilliant idea. I find it incredible that you can see all of these breathtaking locations in a single day. Also, thanks for the tips!
Texas is on our list of states that we need to explore more. San Antonio was not really on our radar but it was great to learn more about why it should be. Certainly learning about the history and the Alamo would make the stop more fascinating. And we would definitely do a boat tour and see the city from a different perspective. Interesting to read about the San Fernando Cathedral and to learn about the immigrants from the Canary Islands! Certainly lots to see and do for a few days visit.
It is an excellent guide to San Antonio and tips on spending a day there. I like this city because of its unique charm and exciting architecture. Alamo is a true architectural gem. I also like to stroll the San Antonio River Walk. It is beautiful in the evening when colorful lanterns illuminate all the bars and restaurants. It’s great that you also mentioned King William Historic District and La Villita Historic Arts Village, as both are worth visiting.
I totally totally agree with you. I don’t think I have the time and means to plan a long getaway, it is always several short getaways! Good to know that all the attractions are at a walking distance. The boat tour looks great and esp., at night with all the lights, spectacular. Its awesome when the guide turns out humorous. I was thinking St.Joseph’s church looks European and it is indeed!
I think the GO RIO Boat Tour is a great idea because yes, we can rest our feet. LOL
Happy to know that the tour guide is humorous. It’s something that we look forward during guided tours. The night light indeed looks pretty. We’d love to have one as a dinner cruise.